Bernadette's Back

Maria Semple's Breakthrough Novel Comes to the Big Screen

Almost seven years after the release of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the classic Seattle book is reimagined as a movie.

By Stefan Milne February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Seattle Met

I lifted my copy of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette from a Little Free Library in Wallingford. I say lifted since, of the dozen or so books taken from those quaint house-shaped boxes, I’ve offered up only one. Yet with Bernadette I feel no remorse. Stealing it feels right, since the novel satirizes precisely such inane ethical dilemmas.

On August 9, the movie adaptation lands in theaters. Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood) directs and Cate Blanchett stars as Bernadette, adorned in huge sunglasses and a haughty American accent. Though the movie might rekindle some of the book’s national love—it sat on The New York Times best seller list for about a year—locally that love hasn’t wavered. Nearly seven years after its release, there is no novel more emblematic of current Seattle and, perhaps, none more necessary to it.

Seattle sees itself on the cutting edge, politically and culturally, and with that intrepid identity comes self-regard. We are doing the right thing. Semple locates that piety in tech elitism (here Microsoft power players) and traces how it spills over into empty disputes. Not getting out of the car during private school kid pickup, letting blackberries grow unsightly, proffering chard aggressively, maintaining equity aboard the Microsoft Connector—these are the characters’ fixations, even as their lives unravel in infidelity, mental illness, and drug abuse. Sure, there are Molly Moon’s references and rants about five-way intersections, but in Bernadette Semple approaches our quotidian tussles with wit while quietly excavating the bigger battles beneath—and that makes the book endure.

Updated on March 9, 2019, to reflect that the movie release has been delayed again, from March 22 to August 16. 

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